Finding reliable gluten-free baking substitutes can be a nightmare for even the savviest of pastry queens. After having to cut out all gluten from my diet two years ago, I was determined not to give up on baking delicious-tasting treats. After much trial and error and countless hours of research, I can say that I have finally mastered gluten-free baking! My success in the kitchen has all come down to figuring out the best usage for common gluten-free baking substitutes.
Almond flour was one of the first gluten free baking substitutes I experimented with in the place of traditional wheat flour. Made from finely ground blanched almonds, it gives a light nutty flavor to baked goods. If used alone, instead of blended with another flour substitute, it can produce a very dry cake or cookie that will not hold together well. For this reason, I will usually do no more than a ratio of 1:2 with almond flour and another flour substitute.
Coconut is another flour substitute that I would recommend using only to make a flour blend. Ground from dried coconut meat, it gives the most delicious flavor to baked goods. I love to use it to make sweet crêpes, pancakes, macaroons, and scones. However, I shy away from using it in light cakes and cookies as it can be overly crumbly in texture.
White rice flour is the gluten free flour substitute that comes the closest to delivering the same results as wheat flour when baking. The great thing about white rice flour is that it has a very bland taste, which means you do not have to account for masking or enhancing any unwanted flavors in your recipe. I use this as a stand-alone flour substitute and also in making flour blends using almond and coconut flour. This is my go-to gluten free flour for cakes, breads, and pie crusts.
Often times when attempting gluten-free baking, the finished product comes out too dry. A way to avoid this problem is to make a flour blend using potato starch. Potato starch is able to retain moisture at a higher level than wheat flour. Be careful though, potato starch and potato flour are two very different things. Try it out when making dense cakes, sweet breads, and sponge cakes.
Tapioca flour is made from the cassava root and has a very fine milled texture. The key feature of tapioca flour is that it gives baked goods a chewy texture. I like to do a 1:1 ratio of tapioca flour and white rice flour when making brownies and French bread. It can also be used in place of recipes that call for the use of cornstarch.
One of the hardest parts of baking with gluten-free ingredients is trying to mimic the elasticity that is created with wheat flours. This elasticity is a major factor in how baked goods will rise and how well they will maintain their shape. Xanthan gum is a powder that can be added to gluten-free flours to help create the "stretchy" element in dough and batters. Most manufactures will include a guide on their product that says how much to use in different types of recipes.
Ground flax seeds are a healthier alternative to xanthan gum and eggs when looking for something to help bind ingredients together. In addition to giving structure to baked goods, ground flax seeds are also a great source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. While not as strong as xanthan gum, I love to use it in nutty, sweet breads and sandwich breads for the added health benefits.
While gluten free baking can be a hard endeavor, thankfully we live in a time where information on gluten-free baking substitutes is not impossible to find. What’s your favorite gluten-free treat to make and what substitutes do you rely on to make it?